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Shall we dance?

Daughters of Miriam hosts 'senior' prom

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Irving Bookman, king of the prom, and Sarah Bander, the queen, watch as Daughters of Miriam Executive Director Fred Feinstein gets ready to cut the cake Photos by Charles Zusman

What’s a prom without pictures? Excitement buzzed through the room as residents of the Daughters of Miriam Center/The Gallen Institute in Clifton parked their walkers, donned their corsages, and lined up for photos.

That was the prelude to the dancing, munchies, and refreshments as the residents of the Esther and Sam Schwartz Building at Daughters of Miriam celebrated their “senior,” and we do mean senior, prom.

And what’s a prom without a king and queen? In this case the king was Irving Bookman, 90, a lifelong Jersey City resident. He was joined by Queen Sarah Bander, 105, who was born in Poland but lived most of her life in Brooklyn.

“They have such beautiful women here, why did they pick me?” asked Bander.

The reason: She and Bookman have lived the longest in the building, both having been there 19 years.

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Kopel Wainstein, 92, dances with Rachel Vallespir, 11, and Rabbi Rachel Schwartz, the wife of the Glen Rock Jewish Center’s Rabbi Neil Tow, holding her daughter Dara, 2.

The genesis of the prom was an idea from the Glen Rock Jewish Center to pair its high-school age youngsters with the DOM seniors for a celebration.

For the DOM it was perfect fit, because it was getting ready to mark the 30th anniversary of the Sam and Esther Schwartz building, one of two offering assisted independent apartment living there. The building is named for its benefactors, and Sam Schwartz actually lived there for several years until his passing.

The building includes 115 one-bedroom units with some 146 residents, said building manager Linda Emr. She estimated that most were at the prom.

When the music started, a wave of energy swept the room. Selections by Peter Leiberman of Parsippany, at the keyboard and microphone, included spirited Jewish favorites such as “Hava Nagila,” “Haveinu Shalom Aleichem,” and “Bei Mir Bist Du Shain.”

Other popular tunes ranged from the slow to, well, medium, including “Kansas City,” “I’m Just a Gigolo,” “New York, New York,” “It had to be You,” and “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” A cha-cha was played after an audience request.

For Doris Perlman, 90, the prom gave her a unique vantage point. Not so many years ago she was herself entertaining at senior citizens events as a dancer and singer.

“I’m a dancer from way back,” she said. “How many boyfriends I had,” she continued, with a dreamy look in her eyes.

“I have fun wherever I go, I make a hit,” she said.

For some, like Bander, the “queen,” the prom was a first. She immigrated to New York from Poland at 15 and immediately went to work. There was no time to enjoy the frills of growing up in the new world.

For others, like Rose Daniels, 94, the prom was a reminder of her youth all those decades ago. “I went to proms all the time. I loved to dance since I was 6. I danced with my daddy,” she recalled.

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Rose Daniels, 94, dances with Michael Herman, 16.

She came off the dance floor after dancing with Michael Herman, 16. “She’s an excellent dancer,” Michael said.

“I wanted to help make people here happy, doing something they would enjoy,” he added.

Rabbi Neil Tow of the Glen Rock Jewish Center said the prom was an “opportunity where we could give something back,” and enlisted some 15 youngsters and some 20 volunteers.

Kenny Vallespir, 13, was one of them. “It’s nice for the kids and it’s nice for the adults,” he said.

The atmosphere was “very exciting” all day, said Emr, the building manager, as the residents dressed up and enjoyed wearing their finery. “The residents love a party,” she said.

Daughters of Miriam, founded in 1921, offers a variety of opportunities “to age in place,” said Caren Speizer, its director of marketing and development. The Gallen Institute for Subacute Care provides care for patients recovering from illness or injury who do not need hospitalization. It is a steppingstone from hospital to home. Other center services include a sheltered workshop and a medical day-care program.

Speakers at the prom included Cipora Schwartz of Ho-Ho-Kus, who through family ties provided a link to the past. The building’s benefactors, Sam and Esther Schwartz, were her in-laws, the parents of her late husband, Philip. Her own parents, Zvi and Margolit Odentz, were residents of the building for a time.

Schwartz, the author of “An American Jewish Odyssey, American Religious Freedom and the Nathan Barnert Memorial Temple” (Ktav Publishing House), explained that the center had its origins in the charitable work of Nathan Barnert, an immigrant to Paterson – and eventually its mayor – in the 1800s. The center is named for his wife, Miriam.

This same “immigrant experience” of hard work and charity was passed on to Sam Schwartz, who was a successful textile businessman, through his own parents, Schwartz said.

“They were all Americans who never forgot the idea of tzedakah and the need to leave the world a better place than we found it,” she said.

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